Learning how to improve your productivity, isn’t about finding ways to do a greater number of tasks in as little as time as possible. To me, improving your productivity is about finding out what tasks you should be doing, to achieve your goals.
This is why I’m not a huge fan of most of the productivity literature. Most books concentrate on finding ways to become 10-15% more productive in your day. Yet, very little time is spent on figuring out what tasks you should actually be doing.
It was not until I was introduced to the 80/20 Principle while reading The Four Hour Work Week, until I completely understood this.
What is the 80/20 Principle?
The 80/20 Principle is a simple law that says, 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. In other words, 80% of your time is wasted on achieving only 20% of the results. In other other words, we waste a lot of our time doing busy work to avoid the stuff that really matters.
Applying the 80/20 Principle
The key improving your productivity is to know where you’re going by having clearly defined goals. If you don’t know exactly where you want to go, you can’t know which actions to take to get there.
After you have clearly defined goals, try this simple exercise.
How to Increase Your Productivity Step # 1 – Make a List
Either at the end of a day or the beginning of a day, make a list of 20 things you can do to get you closer to your goals.
How to Increase Your Productivity Step # 2 – Eliminate 80% of List
Now go through that list, with this question in mind, “What action(s) will help me achieve my goal(s) the fastest?” The goal is to find the top 4 actions (eliminate 80%) that will get you closer to your goals.
If you can’t decide here are some additional questions to ask yourself:
- If this was the only thing I did today, would I move closer to my goals?
- What are the consequences of putting this task off till tomorrow?
- What are the consequences of putting this task off all together?
How to Increase Your Productivity Step # 3 – Take Action on Remaining 20%
With the remaining four tasks, begin taking action immediately on what will have the most impact on your goals.. Don’t stop until you have completed the first task on your list.
If you can’t get through each of the four tasks, that’s fine. Repeat this process, starting with step #1 tomorrow.
What I Learned From Applying the 80/20 Principle
I do this exercise periodically from time to time to sharpen my focus. After about a week, one thing I notice is how much time I waste staying busy.
A lot of the time, the most productive thing I can do in a day to get me closer to a goal is to make a phone call. Yet for whatever reason, instead of taking ten minutes to make a phone call, I might take two hours and write a blog post.
To write a blog post, I don’t have to reach outside my comfort zone. I do this almost everyday. To make a phone call I might have to reach outside my comfort zone just a little, so I procrastinate. This exercise is a great way to remind myself that being productive really means being effective and efficient.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your productivity, try this simple exercise everyday for at least a week. I promise it will make a difference in your productivity.